Osborne optimistic for a bright future in Pendle

Chancellor George Osborne talks to Joanne Hirst and Jacqueline Atkins during his visit to Farmhouse Biscuits in Nelson.
Chancellor George Osborne talks to Joanne Hirst and Jacqueline Atkins during his visit to Farmhouse Biscuits in Nelson.
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Chancellor George Osborne has urged Pendle voters to think very carefully where they put their cross at the ballot box in May.

Mr Osborne said it would be a “disaster” if a party other than the Conservatives took control of Westminster after voters go to the polls in the spring.

Chancellor George Osborne during his visit to Farmhouse Biscuits in Nelson.

Chancellor George Osborne during his visit to Farmhouse Biscuits in Nelson.

In Pendle, the Conservatives have a narrow lead over Labour to retain the Pendle seat held by Andrew Stephenson MP.

The Chancellor’s visit to Pendle was the second by a top Tory in a 24 hour period following London Mayor Boris Johnson’s trip to the Alma Inn in Laneshaw Bridge for a party function the night before.

When asked if the Conservatives were panicking about losing the Pendle seat in May, Mr Osborne dismissed the suggestion.

Speaking at Farmhouse Biscuits in Nelson, Mr Osborne said: “No, we’re really confident that when people see what a fantastic MP Andrew has been and the way he has brought jobs to the town and the area, when people see the Conservative long term economic plan delivering for the whole country, including East Lancashire, they will come to the conclusion that they want to have a Conservative MP and a Conservative government.”

The Chancellor was in the North West with PM David Cameron to promote the idea of a Northern Powerhouse.

But with an anticipated 25% fewer staff at one of Pendle’s largest employers Rolls-Royce in Barnoldswick by the end of 2015 from its high point 12 months ago, the Chancellor insisted that boroughs like Pendle would be central to the concept.

Mr Osborne said: “I think Pendle and East Lancashire is absolutely at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse. This is not just about the big cities in the North West or the North.

“This is about the towns and the counties as well and the argument I have been making today is that if you bring together all of the strengths of the different towns and the communities here the whole can be bigger than the parts.

“And that will bring jobs here, that will bring economic opportunities here and that involves a massive investment in transport, it involves looking what we can look to regenerate areas.

“The Brierfield Mill development I think is something crying out for investment, it is something that has been neglected for years.

“You bring together all of these things not as individual projects as part of a long term plan for the North West of England and you’ll get jobs here, a brighter future here and you’re beginning to see that.

“After all we are in an area where unemployment has fallen by more than 50% in the last four-and-a-half years which is real proof that we are on the right road but we have got to stay on that road for a stronger economy.”

On addressing the imbalance between the north and the south, the Chancellor said: “Lots of previous governments have tried to tackle it but haven’t really succeeded.

“But we’re making more progress I think because we’ve got this concept of the Northern Powerhouse where we bring together the towns of Lancashire and Cheshire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside in a strong economic arrangement.

“We improve the transport, invest in the business, improve the skills, invest in the schools and then you see the performance of the North West and the performance of Lancashire improving and now this is one of the fastest growing parts of the United Kingdom.”

But with demand on food banks in the Pendle area continuing to rise and a general feeling of wages not keeping up, Mr Osborne insisted that people are seeing more money in their pocket.

He said: “I think people here can see jobs being created, people previously unemployed are in work and you’re beginning to see quite a lot of local businesses start to give pay rises.

“The idea that there’s no connection between the national economy and what goes on in Pendle is a big mistake.

“And if you believe that and you vote for a party that’s going to destroy the national economy you will soon see the consequences and the casualties in towns like Nelson when unemployment will go up, the public finances will be a mess and there won’t be any economic security.

“The biggest disaster for this town and this community here would be to abandon that plan and go back to the mess that we were in five or six years ago as a country.”

Central to the concept of the Northern Powerhouse is transport, and when tackled on Pendle’s future transport and infrastructure, particularly replacing 30-year-old trains running between Preston and Colne, Mr Osborne assured improvements.

He said: “I’ve made an announcement recently that we are going to get rid of some of those pacer trains which were really not right for the modern age and get some new rolling stock and improved rolling stock on to the railways so that passenger journeys are better.

“I think we should look at what we can do to improve direct rail services between here in Nelson and Manchester, we should work with Lancashire Council to see, well, why don’t they make that a priority.”